Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Only the strongest survive (and thrive) in the CP markets

Money market funds continue to struggle to put cash to work , searching for product that would comply with pending new regulation, yet provide returns that are above treasury bills. The returns on money market funds continue to be pathetic - about 15-25 basis points annualized.

The better rated banking firms have taken notice of this demand. They now have a choice of funding themselves by borrowing from other banks or via the CP market. (Neither was really available on anything but the overnight basis in the second half of 08).

With the 3 month LIBOR hovering above 25 bp, CP funding is cheaper for banks that can get AA rating on the paper (see the CP yield curve below).

And banks are indeed taking advantage of it, issuing CP and selling it to guys like the Fidelity MM fund. That gives the larger/stronger banks a real advantage over the smaller ones. Community banks have to pay depositors 60 bp on checking accounts and over 105 bp on money market acccounts - and that's their key source of funds. The larger banks can fund themselves with CP at 20 bp. That's a significant competitive advantage.

The new issuance of CP has caused the amount of financials-issued commercial paper outstanding to spike,

source: FRB

driving up the overall CP notional.

source: Bloomberg

This new supply is easily absorbed by money market funds. The CP market has simply bifurcated into those who have the credit quality to issue paper and those who don't - there's little in between. With new regulation, money markets won't be able to buy much "tier-2" CP and there aren't other buyers out there. You are either "tier-1" or you are basically out of the market (some stronger "tier-2" can still place paper, but in limited amounts - maybe 5% of the total). For a while the Fed was buying CP via the CPFF program, but that's winding down:

source: FRB

The survivors in the CP market are some of the strongest institutions or institutionally sponsored ABCP programs. Everyone else has to look for other sources of funds.
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